Even as the economy slows and stagnates, the Chinese government is rapidly expanding its military
China announced on March 4 that it will be increasing next year’s military budget by 10.1 per cent, causing unease among its neighbours who fear the country’s increasing territorial ambitions.
The budget’s increase to $145 billion, despite the recent economic slowdown, would make it the fifth year in a row that the government has committed revenues to expanding its military resources.
The sustained increase is indicative of China’s desire to assert itself in the world and in its regional sphere of influence. Beijing claims that the increases are only to modernize its 2.3 million member People’s Liberation Army, the largest standing army in the world.
“China has a tougher road to travel than other large nations in terms of national defense modernization. We can only rely on ourselves for research and development of most of our military technology,” said legislative spokeswoman, Fu Ying.
“Meanwhile, we need to ceaselessly improve conditions for our soldiers.”
Fu continued to say that China’s military remains strictly for defensive purposes, and that it has never used “gunboats” to advance other interests.
However, the last few years have seen numerous confrontations between Chinese and Japanese ships around the contested East China Sea islands. China also has a border dispute with India in the Himalayas and another with several southern neighbours over territory in the South China Sea.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has called China’s expanding outposts in the South China Sea an “aggressive” assertion of their sovereignty.
Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said that the U.S. will be monitoring China’s military developments, and called for China to use its capabilities “in a manner that’s conducive to maintenance of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region”.
Both Japanese and Indian military budgets have also seen larger-than-normal increases this year in response to China’s growing military presence in the region.
China’s official military spending is less than a third of the U.S. defence budget, a huge $534 billion with an additional $51 billion for the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon and several global arms bodies estimate that China’s actual military spending is anywhere from 40 to 50 per cent higher than reported, as their official budget does not include high-tech imports, research and development and other programs.
The need for high-tech equipment is a large factor in the budget increase, with a new aircraft carrier wing, two prototype stealth fighters and cruise missiles faster than the speed of sound.
The People’s Liberation Army’s official mandate is to protect China’s borders and prepare for contingencies with Taiwan, which Beijing has vowed to take control of by force if necessary.
Recently, China’s military has been engaging in new missions across the world as it participates in U.N. peacekeeping operations.
A new law China, if passed, would allow its army to be sent overseas on anti-terror missions, something the U.S. does not want to happen.
Chinese politicians are constantly interfering with the military, and many top commanders have recently been arrested as part of a nationwide crackdown on corruption and other internal crimes.
Two top Generals and 14 other top officers are all under investigation or have been convicted of crimes such as selling ranks or embezzling funds.